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There was always a fascinating and dangerous beauty about the white cliffs rising from a sometime raging, sometime becalmed sea. The Alabaster Coast charmed Boudin, Morisot, Pissarro, and Monet among many others, all fascinated by the play of light on the sea and white cliffs, changeable according to the season and moods of the weather, and unchanged to this day.
the Etretat gardens
Sat on a bench in the Etretat Gardens, it is easy to while away the hours contemplating the great free-standing hollow chalk needles opposite, a bright contrast of green gardens and white cliffs. It’s not hard to understand why Monet so fell in love with the place: indeed, he is represented as a statue among the shrubbery painting at his easel. In 1905 his friend the famous actress Madame Thébault was the first to plant a tree here, now the setting for an exhibition of “Land Art.”
Walking along the lanes of this little town will allow you to understand better why so many artists were drawn here. It began with Isabey in the 1820s, and Monet stayed here through the winter of 1868. Courbet would produce over fifty canvases of the coast and the sea. Climb back up the cliff path to the old Antifer lighthouse with its stunning views and secret paths through the gullies inland. After gulping in the sea air, take a lunch break in the restaurant du Golf – the view is unbeatable!
The BUSY PORT of Fécamp
After this venture of the great outdoors, everything now points to Fécamp as our next port of call. This seaside resort, which has sported a casino and public baths since 1832, also attracted painters like Délacroix, Monet and Berthe Morisot. Several Impressionist paintings are exhibited in the Fine Arts Room in the Fishing museum, which itself is unusual in having a dizzying overlook affording a panoramic view over the sea!
To take full advantage of the port, why not tipple in the Café de la Boucane? This former fishermen’s hostelry and herring smokery, is one of the trendier spots of Fécamp.
Other highlights along the coast
A string of delightful fishing villages punctuates the Alabaster Coast, starting with Yport, immortalised by Corot and Renoir, then Veules-Les-Roses, which is worth a visit if only for its streets decked out with flowers, its art galleries and, it is said, the shortest river in France (1km). Stopover in the Douce France for a well-deserved break. Varengeville-sur-Mer, perched up high on the cliff edge hardly seems real, such is the grandiose nature of the panorama laid out before you. Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and later Braque all set up their easels there at one time or another.
You can relax in some of the most beautiful gardens in France. Heading for the Shamrock garden is a brilliant move; then you could try the Jacques-Emile Blanche Museum at Offranville or take in a sunset on the beach. Dieppe Castle houses a museum with a number of great masterpieces on display. A tight circle of women Impressionist painters worked in Offranville, including Eva Gonzales, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt. Eva painted the town a number of times; she was a friend of, and modelled for, Manet, who took refuge in Dieppe during the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. You only have to lean out of the window of the museum to take in the very view of the town that had so attracted her, a scene bathed in shifting light and gently rocked by the action of the waves and the ebb and flow of shingle.
From the seafarers’ cemetery, close to the coast at Varengeville-sur-Mer you have a splendid vantage point that sweeps over the surrounding landscape, the surrounding Alabaster Coast with its symphony of colours, and the distant horizon across the English Channel. Set off down the valley towards the sea and follow in the footsteps of Monet, who painted several canvases from this viewpoint, including La Cabane des douaniers.
Avenue Damilaville, 76790 Etretat
Hôtel Le Rayon Vert
1 rue du Général Leclerc, 76790 Etretat
Hôtel-Restaurant Dormy House
Route du Havre, 76790 Etretat
Musée Jacques-Emile Blanche
Parc du Colombier, 76550 Offranville